Salomon Riges turned in his application for U.S. citizenship about a year ago. Under guidelines set by Congress and the Bush administration, he should have been naturalized within six months, giving him plenty of time to register and vote.
Riges didn’t vote on Tuesday. He wasn’t registered. And he had not been naturalized.
Wait Til Next Year
“Maybe next year the papers come in, and next election, I vote,” he said, shrugging.
Voting rights activists say it wasn’t Riges’ fault that his citizenship didn’t come through in time. They say more than 1 million would-be citizens were blocked from voting either because of paperwork delays or because of increased fees for the citizenship application.
More than 1.4 million people, including 100,000 in New York, applied for citizenship between September 2006 and September 2007.
“Last summer the government raised the fee for processing and made no allowance for increased applications,” said Ron Hayduk, co-director of the Immigrant Voting Rights Project. “It’s been a disaster.”
In July 2007, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services upped the citizenship application fee from $400 to $675. Anyone who applied later than May 2007 was not naturalized in time to vote, Hayduk said.
Lawsuit Over Backlog
Hayduk added that citizenship applications always increase in election years, but the Bush administration did not make staff changes to handle the expected increase this year until it was sued over the backlog.
That lawsuit, Milanes v. Chertoff, was filed in March 2008, after the turnaround time for applications had ballooned from six months – the standard waiting time from application to taking the oath of citizenship – to 18 months.
Jose Perez, associate general counsel for Latino Justice, the immigration rights group that brought the suit, said that although the case had been dismissed, it had caused USCIS to hire extra staff and allow more staff overtime in order to get applications processed more quickly.
“We have appealed the decision because we believe the judge erred in a number of respects and failed to certify a group of applicants in the subclass so they could be naturalized in time to vote in November,” Perez said. “This is another battle we need to engage in, but it appears we may be winning the war.”